The List, Summerhall
Run ended, Touring Thursday to Saturday
Remember Me, Summerhall
Reviewed by Mark Brown
The Summerhall venue has staged some of the most spectacular performances of this year’s Fringe. However, as acclaimed Scottish theatre company Stellar Quines’ latest solo piece,The List (byQuébécoise author Jennifer Tremblay), attests, the venue can also do the modestly exquisite.
A middle-aged woman struggles to keep herself afloat emotionally and psychologically as she attempts to adjust, both to her recent move to a rural village and the drifting decline of her marriage. The pillar of her sanity in the midst of her boredom and fear is her ability to organise her life through lists.
When she befriends Caroline, the most interesting woman she has encountered in the village, her new friend asks her, portentously, to add another point to her list of things to do. Is it fate or human nature which dictates that the grave importance of this favour is neither emphasised by Caroline nor grasped by her new friend?
This is the kind of stage narrative which, in its psychological intensity, can sometimes leave one wishing that it had been left on the page, for one to relate to directly, as a reader, rather than have it filtered through the interpretation of an actor and a director. However, that is to reckon without the remarkable qualities of Maureen Beattie, one of Scotland’s finest actors, who performs the play with a powerfully plaintive sense of decency, honesty, guilt and regret.
Playing in the old anatomy lecture theatre of Summerhall, an intimate but somewhat rigid venue, is something of a double-edged sword for Beattie. The semi-circular wooden partition between her and her audience usefully emphasises her character’s sense of isolation, but it is also an unforgiving barrier.
Nevertheless, under the direction of Muriel Romanes, and performing on a simple, appropriately austere set by John Byrne, Beattie, who plays the role with her eyes as much as with her voice, generates a heartbreaking empathy which could overcome all obstacles.
From one superb solo performance to another, as Kieran Hurley reprises his excellent monodrama Beats (the deserved winner of the Best New Play award in 2012 Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland). Produced by Glasgow arts venue The Arches, with excellent live accompaniment by DJ Jonny Whoop, the piece takes its title from the ludicrous line in Michael Howard’s infamous 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which sought to outlaw raves, defining them as outdoor events which played “sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”
Hurley takes us into the lives of Johnno (a teenage boy, bored with life in Livingston) and Robert (a cop in his early 40s), which are set to converge, violently, in a field somewhere in central Scotland. From the combination of monotony and restlessness that can generate a youth subculture to Robert’s raging rejection of the socialist principles of his father (a former Ravenscraig steel worker whose ghost haunts the policeman throughout), Hurley’s script has a sophistication and pace which are matched only by the confidence and dexterity of his performance.
Affectingly sympathetic to Johnno’s hard-pressed and worried single mother, intelligent in its manifestation of years of Thatcherism in the mind of reactionary police officer, Beats is, nevertheless, most impressive in its description of the sheer banality of the circumstances which can brand a young person as an enemy of the state. It is a brilliant evocation of a pivotal moment of the nineties, which resonates meaningfully in 2012.
There’s virtuosity of an entirely different kind in Remember Me, an extraordinary, 20-minute work by Italian company Teatro Sineglossa. Standing resolutely and unashamedly in the tradition of the early-20th century avant-garde, it combines glass, mirrors, the human body and the human voice to generate an unforgettable series of visual illusions. Combined with an almost punk rendition of Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s opera Dido And Aeneas, it rapidly achieves an immense emotive and erotic impact.
At the outset, we see an elegant woman in high heels, evening dress and hat. As she removes her shoes and the hat lifts from her head, a dimension of her constructed femininity evaporates. Then she disappears into darkness.
When the darkness is pierced it is to reveal, in flashes, the frantic movements of a female human body, then a male, then an apparent, startling amalgam of the two, alternating between and combining the facial features and the naked bodies of a woman and man. The effect – in conjunction with Dido’s Lament, “remember me, but… forget my fate” (which is, surely, one of the most moving in all opera) – is to create an astonishing shortcut to the relationship between sexuality and death which lies at the heart of theatrical tragedy.
It seems churlish to find complaint against this almost transcendental art work, given its amazing technical and aesthetic achievements. However, considering the reverberative, agonising capacities of Dido’s song when sung by a female soprano, it is hard to fathom Sineglossa’s decision to break its harmony and render it in a self-consciously rough, almost gravelly male voice.
The company were, one suspects, aiming for a creative conflict between the sublime and worldly. However, the fabulously achieved merging of Adam and Eve which they achieve is human and, therefore, worldly enough. One can’t help but feel that giving Purcell’s song its full, gorgeous voice would render their piece more powerful still.
For tour dates for The List visit: thelist.stellarquines.com
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on August 26, 2012
© Mark Brown